Nature By Any Other Name


Excuse Me Sir

I realized something a while ago. As I was walking on the beach, I was commenting on a dolphin diving in the waves and my preferred pronoun for this graceful creature was ‘he’ or ‘him.’ I paused and checked in with myself – why? Why wasn’t that dolphin a female? From where I stood, it was impossible to distinguish its gender.

The response I observed in myself was very quiet and very subtle. If, it said, I mistakenly referred to a male as a female, that was an insult. Did it work both ways? No, if I mistakenly referred to a female as male, that was fine

It was startling sensation. Buried deep in my foundational perspective, I believed that it was insulting to mistake a male as female. This shook me significantly because I have studied gender roles and cultural expectations over the past 20+ years.

I have read Riane Eisler’s, The Chalice and The Blade, Our History, Our Future, twice, and taken two of her courses. I have read Barbara Walker’s, The Skeptical Feminist, Discovering the Virgin, Mother, and Crone, and, The Crone, Woman of Age, Wisdom and Power. I have read Rosalind Miles’ book, The Women’s History of the World. I’ve studied Marija Gimbutas’ work on the goddess and our early history of revering the feminine. I am a Feminist, through and through. How could this be?

You’re Soaking In It

After my initial shock at realizing my nearly-intrinsic indoctrination’s continued presence, I made a choice. I would always, in the absence of evidence, refer to an animal as a she, or, her. I would defy convention and see the other beings on this planet as female until proven male, instead of the other way around.

This flies in the face of common practice – nearly everyone says ‘he’ or ‘him’ when referring to an animal. Now that I have recalibrated my perspective, when I hear it, it feels as abrasive as the proverbial ‘nails on a chalkboard.’ I want to shout:

‘It could be a her, how do you know? Don’t you know you are propagating a harmful stereotype that is keeping the world locked in a dominator society’s thought prison? This is a big part of the reason we feel free to destroy nature.’

I don’t shout. Instead, I speak gently, and in response to someone commenting about a bird, for example, ‘isn’t he beautiful,’ I say, ‘Yes, she really is amazing.’

Maybe they hear me, maybe they don’t. I am hoping that I don’t sound like I am correcting them and I am also hoping that changing just that one small word soaks in. It would help if more of us adopted this practice. Using the words ‘she’ and ‘her’ for the animals and even the plants around us as often as possible shifts in small but profound ways our orientation to the world, and ultimately, to ourselves.

As a woman, I am enriched by the subconscious association with the awe-inspiring and beautiful natural world. I no longer have to perform the mental gymnastics of taking a hard righthand turn in my mind and flipping around to remember that,

‘Oh, right, man/male means me, too, because it is the default pronoun in our society, and in no way should I feel ‘less than’ simply because my gender is not the one considered linguistically primary. Got it.’

Use Your Words

Language is incredibly powerful. It has the power to liberate, and also, the power to imprison. Cultures use language to tell us who we are, and who we need to be in order to be accepted. Our story, who we are, must be met with an equal reflection in our society’s mirror because that is how we find ourselves. We tell our stories and it is in the very act of having them received that we form connections. When the story we tell about ourselves is not reflected back, we experience a sense of disconnection.

Does your story of the natural world reflect any of the feminine that exists in us all?

Simply begin to see, and speak of, the world as a She. I guarantee you will feel something different. And, I am certain that it will be beautiful.